Swear On This Life
by Renée Carlino
This is the first book I’ve read by Renée Carlino and it will not be my last . . . I loved it. I loved every second of it. The characters were relatable and complex. They grew and changed and the story was dynamic. It reminded me a lot of Colleen Hoover’s writing, and part of the story reminded me of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. These are two things I love, so it’s no surprise I was a fan of Swear On This Life. I read the book in two sittings and that was only because I decided not to stay up until 2 or 3 am to finish (yes, it was a difficult choice). I am really drawn to characters that need to face difficult situations/relationships, from their past or present in order to grow and become the best version of themselves. The protagonist, Emiline, is one of those characters, and I loved reading her journey. Hats off to Carlino . . . looking forward to reading more of her work.
Emiline is an adjunct writing instructor who has yet to write anything “good.” She is struggling to make her way and advance her career, when her room mate hands her a book that she ‘just has to read.’ Emiline reluctantly picks it up to find that it is a story of her very own past, filled with traumatic events she’s spent years trying to forget. She quickly realizes that her best friend from childhood, Jase is the mysterious author, J. Colby and she struggles to make sense of why he plagiarized her life, especially when it’s been 12 years since she seen or heard from him. While she is seeped in memories, Emiline is also struggling with her relationship with her boyfriend of 7 years, she loves him, but are they really a good fit? Spoilers: when Emiline is about half way through the book, Jase comes to town for a book signing and they meet. Emiline is completely thrown off guard and is left in a tail spin. She still has deep feelings for Jase, but they don’t know each other anymore and she has a lot of issues from her childhood that she needs to deal with. When she was a girl, she and Jase were neighbors and grew up playing together. They both had horrible home lives and found relief being together. Their friendship slowly blooms into love by the time they are 15. At the same time, Emiline’s father is becoming a more violent alcoholic (her mother has long since abandoned them), and one day he beats up both Jase and Emiline because he catches them kissing. Jase calls child protective service and gets Emiline to safety, though it costs them being together. Emiline goes to a foster home, but is forced to leave when she finds out she has an aunt who will take her in. Before she goes, she tries to run away with Jase, but in the end, he turns them in so Emiline can have a good life. The next 12 years they have no contact and Emiline always wonders why Jase never came to find her. So, now, with this book, Jase has dug up all the pain and she decides to finally deal with it. Emiline takes leave from work and finds her dad, who is out of jail and staying clean. They reconcile and then she finds her mother, who is cold and Emiline realizes that it was never her fault her mother left her, her mother just couldn’t really love her. She also mutually ends things with her boyfriend, when they both realize they are not a good match. Then, finally, Emiline finishes Jase’s book and discovers that he wrote it for her. He wanted her to find healing and he’s always loved her and wanted to be with her, but he had to write this book for her first. She also finds out that he was the one who slipped the copy to her room mate. Emiline then races to Jase and they naturally live happily ever after. It’s cliche, but the ending is very sweet and very wonderful.
I think growth for a character is a huge part of what makes a book “good.” Emiline deals with a lot in this book and there are a few quotes that describe part of her growth, that resonated with me. Emiline says, ” . . .I realized that my father had learned something in his recovery that I still hadn’t totally grasped: the past would only fester and eat away at us if we tried to hold on to it too tightly.” And later she realizes, “We can’t always control our circumstances, who our parents are, where we live, or how much money we make, but in those rare moments when we can shape our fate, when we do have the power to make our own happiness, we can’t be too scared to do it.”
Summing it up: I highly recommend this book. I loved the arc and the growth and the characters. It was a moving, sweet, quick read!
All the best, Abbey